Week Two: A Bazaar Experience & First Days of School
Coming to the end of my second week here in Izmir, I decided not to wait anymore to tell you about my first days of school, since I know many of you are anxious to hear about it! But just sit tight a bit longer, because first I want to tell you about my first visit to the old bazaar - a bizarre experience to say the least. (see what I did there?)
I met up with Maggie (girl from Oregon whose host parents own a restaurant), Zeynep (my Inbound Coordinator with Rotary) and Diana (girl from Mexico who is living with Zeynep) and we all walked together to the bazaar. My first thought was chaos. Complete and utter chaos! There were people everywhere, vendors yelling out for people to come buy things, tables and shelves filled with seemingly anything you would ever want to find. Part of the reason it was so busy was because it was a Friday, which is apparently an important day for many Muslims, so they were all making their way to the mosque in the bazaar. I’ll go into that more in a bit. Let me quote part of my journal entry from that day about the vendors in the streets: “ Everywhere we went, men yelled at Maggie and I, either in persistent Turkish or broken English phrases in (what I think is) an attempt to impress us into buying something. One guy yelled, ‘Hey! America! Lady Gaga!’ and another yelled, ‘Ah! Very nice! I love you!’ before proceeding to rattle off his items for sale in quick, incomprehensible Turkish. My favorite, however, was the guy that yelled out, ‘Hello! American girl! Facebook!’ ... I guess I should congratulate them on knowing random things about our pop culture? It still doesn’t make me want to buy their stuff, though.” We ate lunch in the bazaar at a restaurant with a few of Zeynep’s friends, and afterwards, Zeynep turned the three of us loose in a closed off part of the bazaar that had most of the jewelry/handmade stuff we were into. There was every style and color of jewelry you could imagine, so if I’m supposed to bring you back a present, send me your wish lists! Before Zeynep left, she explained to us more about the people we saw at the mosque. All around the mosque and in several locations close to it, there were faucets set at about knee high, and there were people washing themselves. She explained that many Muslim people believe that they should be clean to pray in the mosque, so they wash their faces, hands, arms, and feet with these faucets. So that was basically my first of what I’m sure will be many more visits to the bazaar. Here’s a picture to help you envision how it looks:
That was Friday, like I said, so there’s still a whole 2 days of things that happened between then and the first day of school. I’ll try to just pick out a few big things from Saturday and Sunday’s events so we can move on to the main event! On Saturday, my host mom and I went to a mall called “Agora” (which, funny enough, means ‘now’ in Portuguese) that was 3 floors filled with stores with gorgeous, European-style clothing. That was all the confirmation I needed that I would be giving Turkey a lot of my business in the clothes/shoes department. We ate dinner at a restaurant in the courtyard of the mall and talked about lots of different things. My host mom really is a wonderful mother, not just to her own daughter or to me, but in general. Even though she doesn’t speak a lot of English and I definitely don’t speak enough Turkish to have a conversation, we still have managed to become very close in just these two weeks we’ve known each other. It’s a relief, to say the least, to know we work well together, because living for just one other person that doesn’t exactly enjoy your company wouldn’t make for a good couple of months. She did kind of make me feel guilty about not having talked to my parents since I got here though, so when we came home I chatted with my real parents for a while. I could tell from the look on my mom’s face that she was more than ecstatic to talk with her baby face to face, so I’m glad I could do that for her.
Moving on! Sunday I got to showcase a bit of my talent in a very spontaneous way. Demet told me she was going to the salon to get her roots touched up and instead of staying home alone, I decided to go along with her. We had gone once before (the morning before the engagement party) and it was a pretty cute place, so I grabbed my sketchbook (courtesy of Krissy Bakke, thanks again!) and headed out the door. I had been in the mood to draw that morning, so I figured if there was anything that caught my eye in the salon, I could keep myself busy. When I sat down, I saw the newspaper on the table with a picture of the “classic” Mickey and Minnie Mouse. I decided to give it a whirl and began drawing. It got quite hot quite fast sitting on that leather sofa, considering it was at least 85 degrees outside, but I kept on drawing anyways. It turned out alright for a non-gridded drawing, but everyone in the salon went nuts over it! The owner brought me over to his computer and pulled up a picture of his son on Facebook, then he asked if I could draw it for him. Since I had nothing better to do, and because I figured nothing but good could come from it, I agreed. So they sat the laptop on the coffee table in front of me and left me to work. Again, let me express that drawing from a picture without a grid can sometimes go very wrong very quickly, so I was a bit nervous I would screw up. I worked and worked, sweat and sweat, until I felt it was complete. I showed the man who had requested it and he seemed to be really pleased. He carefully cut out the page from the sketchbook and told me he was going to hang it up in their house on the wall. It wasn’t until we were walking back home that my host mom told me the man had said if I ever needed my hair styled for anything, he would do it for free. Not sure about other services, but hey! My hard work paid off I guess!
Well that’s the weekend in a nutshell. Oh, wait! I need to add a picture of what I ate Sunday night, cuz it was GOOOOOOD. It’s not quite pizza, but it’s the same idea. It looks too big to finish on your own, but actually, you cut it into smaller pieces, then roll it up with lettuce/basil in the middle and eat it like a burrito. So I ended up going through 2 of these things by myself, but by the end, I was definitely full. Looks good though, huh??
That brings us to Monday. A.k.a. my first day of school. At least, it was supposed to be. My host mom and I went to register me, we got my uniform (plaid skirt, black polo, could be worse), and met briefly with the principal. He called me by my full name, but I didn’t think much of it. Then we waited outside rather cluelessly as the rest of the students and staff prepared for the opening ceremony. A bunch of people gave speeches, most people clapped, but not many of the older students were actually listening. ...That is, until the principal mentioned in his welcome speech that there would be an American girl attending their school.. AND that she happened to be there that day for them to meet. As if people hand’t been staring and wondering already, absolutely EVERY eye turned to me. I felt my face go bright red and my heart started beating ferociously. I was definitely NOT prepared for this. Demet walked behind me, pushing me through the students towards the stage. I made my way up there and prayed that I would just be able to wave and call it a day, but THEN the principal told me to introduce myself. The huge crowd in front of me that had previously been mindlessly chattering away went dead silent. My stomach dropped as I stepped up to the microphone and my brain started rapidly trying to find the Turkish phrases I could use, but all I could come up with was “merhaba.” (“hello”) That was enough for the students though, because everyone applauded after I said just that one word. The principal urged me to say more, but my brain couldn’t locate my Turkish, so, in English, I said, “My name is Haley. I am from America. And I am very happy to be at your school.” Everyone clapped and I raced down the stairs and back to my host mom as fast as I could. Part of me was afraid I would trip and fall down the steps, which would have been a GREAT way to start the year, I’m sure... Usually public speaking isn’t an issue for me, but I was caught completely off guard and making one of the most important first impressions ever during my exchange, and I can’t speak their language. It was a rough morning. Luckily though, the principal said I didn’t actually have to be there that day and that I could come back tomorrow. I breathed a sigh of relief and I spent the rest of the afternoon at my host mom’s office. There’s supposed to be another exchange student with me at school, a girl from Canada, but she still hasn’t arrived as of yet.
My REAL first day of school included less embarrassment, but it was still rough. There were too many thoughts racing through my head at the same time to write a comprehensive journal entry, so I made a bullet list of random things I noted from my first day, and a few other observations I made during the first week. Here’s a few of them:
-There’s a boy in the 11th grade (where I believe I’ll be staying) who is half American, half Turkish but has lived in Turkey for 6 years now, so he’s fluent in both languages, and seems really nice. His name is Deniz. (like Dennis)
-Susan, the teacher deemed the exchange student handler, is British. She’s pretty nice and explained a lot of things about the school for me and my mother... but she’s British! Oh the accent!!
-Wow, the view from the windows in this room is wonderful! The school is on a hill so past the trees you can see the sea and the other side of the city. Gorgeous!
-Once again I realize how badly America screwed over their youth with the invention of the calculator (this was during math class when the kids were doing problems from the board)
-Successfully communicated my age, name, and “happy to be here” to my teacher. Score!
-The uniforms here = super cute. I’ll get used to it I think. (just kidding, these skirts suck.)
-I see no nail polish, no makeup, no earrings, no cell phones, no iPods... there’s so many rules here!
-Blue chalkboard, projector, and pull down screen... not much more advanced than Brazil.
-So kids here learn 3 languages involuntarily: German, Spanish, and English. 4 if you count Turkish.
-Oh no. Physics... again. In another language... again. Not gonna learn it... again.
-My class only has 11 other people in it. It’s small, but they seem really friendly and close with each other, which is good.
-AHH! Turkish being spoken/screamed from every direction!! Headache much?!
-Played UNO during a break... apparently I impressed them with my card shuffling skills?
-These guys are crazy good at German! The teacher wrote a paragraph up on the board that everyone had to take turns reading back out loud, and most of them read it like it was no big deal. I tried my best, and for not having had a German lesson in my life, I did pretty well.
-So you know how a bell rings at the end of a class to tell you it’s over? Well not in Turkey. Instead, every school has a tune they play, which sounds like a ringtone for a cellphone. I would be able to sit by and not let it bother me, but the song my school has as their “bell”... Happy Birthday. I kid you not, I hear that tune at least 30 times a day. So when I get back, don’t you dare try to sing that song on my birthday. (Sorry, Mom.) A school nearby plays Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 or whatever it’s called instead... I’d take that over Happy Birthday, but I’m getting used to just tuning it out.
-The music teacher is really fun. He brought out a guitar at the end of class and asked if anyone wanted to take a shot at it, so I mustered up my strength and played a few verses of “Hallelujah” from Shrek... I was just happy to get my hands on a guitar again.
-I amazed my classmates yet again with my mad bird folding origami skills. Use what you’ve got, right?
-After lunch, I followed 2 of the girls from my class down to the music room, where kids were grabbing trumpets, drums and cymbals. I was just being a bystander, but someone pulled me in and handed me a trumpet and put me in line with the other kids. They told me to listen to everyone else and I’d just pick it up. I’ve never played the trumpet before in my life, but it wasn’t one with valves to make different notes, so I didn’t know how to control what sound came out... I didn’t know what was going on and it didn’t sound very good, but they’re getting better nowadays. I just sit and listen though. I don’t play band instruments! Sorry!
-School starts at 9 and goes till 4:15... every class is 40 minutes... and for the most part, we stay in one room. (This sounds great to American students I’m sure because school starts later and the classes are shorter, but trust me, once 2:00 rolls around, you wanna be done. But you still have 2 more hours.)
-Here's a picture from the back of my classroom looking at the front, so you get a better idea of how it looks as well:
Well there’s a random list for you... I apologize for the strange observations, but this is what my brain has been doing for the last 2 weeks: just picking up on small details around me and trying to analyze it all at once. The rest of my first week was pretty uneventful... lunch is always kind of difficult because you either go to the cafeteria (but I didn’t think the food was very good) or you go to the canteen where you can get sandwiches and stuff. Problem is, you have to order your stuff, pay for it, get colored chips for each item, then go retrieve them, along with the 15-20+ kids doing the same thing. It’s an issue when you have NO idea what any of the things on the menu are. I’m getting a better feel for it now, though. Plus I can always make Deniz come with me and help me, he’s pretty good about it. The class schedules (at least so far) are similar to what I had in Brazil, where every day has a different set of classes. So far I’ve seen Biology, Physics, English, German, Chemistry, Religion, Spanish, Turkish, Philosophy, Music, and I think Phy. Ed. but all they did was measure and weigh us (haven’t gained any weight in these 2 weeks! Small victories!) On Friday, something strange happened after our 6th period. We gathered our things and went to the courtyard where they had had the opening ceremony thing. Everyone lined up like they were on the first day of school. Deniz told me they do this every Monday morning and Friday afternoon. On Fridays, they acknowledge people for achievements or awards, no matter how petty they may be. He also informed me that a tradition in our class is to “congratulate” any of our classmates that are called up by hitting them hard on the back before the person goes up. Let’s just hope I don’t do anything worth acknowledging! Then they sang the Turkish national anthem and the school’s anthem (which most of the older kids stayed quiet for). After that, they called it quits and left school a bit early, which I won’t complain about.
That about sums up my first week of school. There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of boredom, and a lot of frustration, but it will get better. I’m writing this during my second week, and I can tell you that yes, it has gotten better. I’m starting to get closer with the kids in my class, so I can honestly say I have Turkish friends now! There are more things that happened in the evenings of these days during my first week of school, but I’ll save those for next time.
~~ I’d also like to just say thank you for all the kind, wonderful comments on my last entries. It really means a lot to me that so many people, even people I’ve never met, are interested in learning about the Turkish culture through my eyes. To the kind soul who said this should be printed in the Gazette, I’m not sure if I have the power to request something like that, but maybe a few Letters to the Editor or Sound Offs would do the trick? Who knows! Either way, I’m more than happy to be providing you all with a secondhand exchange experience. Thanks for reading!! ~~
Haley Drozdowicz is a Craig High School student who's visiting Turkey. She's studying there as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. Haley is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. Her opinion is not necessarily that of the The Gazette staff or management.